Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Look who's teaching science these days

The controversy over the teaching of "intelligent design" is growing. A segment of the U.S. population feels it should be taught in our school science classes, along with the theory of evolution. This is not a good idea. In the home, fine. In the public schools, no way.

Let's leave the teaching of science people educated and knowledgeable about science, which brings me to another concern.

I can tick off about a dozen families (friends, neighbors and acquaintances) that are "homeschooling" their children. I'm not saying its a bad thing, not by a longshot. In fact, you've got to hand it to moms and dads (usually more moms than dads) so committed to their offspring. But, I'm convinced that some of these people are making the wrong call. They're not qualified to teach. They have very little knowledge of basic science and they're intolerant of any idea that goes against their ingrained beliefs. They won't even consider or investigate alternative ideas.

It seems to me that they're not teaching their youngsters as much as they're indoctrinating them to some very personal ideas about today's world, some of it admittedly, proudly and loudly anti-science. --- Ron Hall

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Another proposed ban bites the dust

The city of London, in Ontario Province, Canada, voted down a ban on lawn care pesticides this week. Well, actually, it said "no" to a compromise bylaw that, from what reporter Joe Belander wrote in the London Free Press newspaper, nobody was real happy about. The anti-pesticide lobby saw the compromise as a cop-out. The lawn care industry said it had lots of flaws.

The compromise measure would have allowed spraying of pesticides up to a maximum of 20% of a property owner's lawn, with the amount reduced to 10% by 2010. It would have also required lawn application companies to register with the city, etc.

Cudos to council members in London. For once common sense rules.

Having spent the first third of my 30-plus years in journalism covering local, regional and state governments,I'm convinced that lawmakers(and most of them mean well, I'm sure)spend too much time telling homeowners and small business what they can and can't do within their respective jurisdictions.

Hey lawmakers, provide police and fire protection, make sure our roads are in good repair and that our water is safe and our sewage system is up to snuff. . .then let the free markets work. They will. --- Ron Hall

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Sometimes you're a winner...

Did you hear about the landscaper out in Oregon who won a giant lottery last week? We're talking a national, multi-million dollar win here, and the man and his family appeared on "Good Morning America" last week to talk about it. They all had that glazed, "can't believe it's us!" look that all lottery winners seem to have. It's the attitude that comes after the super-excited state when they get photographed with a giant check, and before the panic stage sets in and all sorts of unknown "relatives" start calling looking for money.

Diane Sawyer asked the typical question: "Will you go to work tomorrow?" And you know what? He said yes. He talked about how much he liked his job, and how he wouldn't want to do anything else, and how he's really happy doing what he's doing.

How many of you would say the same thing? Sort of an interesting test, isn't it? Would you keep your job if you won the lottery? What would you do to make it better? Buy another company? Invest in the business you have?

I'll definitely keep my job when I win big money (note the "when," not the "if"). I like it even better now that Landscape Management has picked up and moved to downtown Cleveland from the suburbs. Change is exciting.
-- Stephanie Ricca

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thieves target landscapers

Thieves struck the landscape businesses of two friends this past week. They stole two trucks from one and one truck from the other. Both run operations just southwest of Cleveland. I found out about it at the Ohio Landscape Association annual dinner dance Saturday night.

One of the owners told us the incident taught him two lessons — he’ll fence in his company yard and he’ll install GPS systems on his trucks. Besides helping with routing, the GPS will make trucks easier to locate if they’re stolen, police told him.

The thieves drove a stolen van to the first location; it was still running when our landscape friend showed up just before daybreak. He wondered, “What in the heck is that van doing in our lot?” When he looked around he found two company pickups missing. The window of a third had been smashed.

It didn't take police long to recover one of the stolen trucks and arrest its driver. He was pulling a trailer with a backhoe on it, reportedly stolen from another site. The officer stopped the driver because the trailer lights weren’t working. When questioned by police, the driver claimed he “just found” the truck and backhoe.

Another favorite haunt of equipment thieves are regional landscape field days and trade shows. We’ve heard several discouraging stories about equipment, usually on trailers, being spirited away, sometimes in broad daylight. The thieves keep track of the events. They cruise the streets around a convention center or field day looking for trailers that they can hook onto their vehicles and drive away. Hotel and motel parking lots offer no security from these buzzards. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Moving day is upon us!

After months and months of seeming far far away, the dreaded day is finally here: Moving Day.

LM's parent company, Questex Media Group, is moving out of our ancestral home at the Middleburg Heights headquarters of Advanstar Communications. On Monday, we're moving to newly refurbished offices smack in the middle of downtown Cleveland.

<--- My boss, Ron Hall, still trying to be productive in his torn up cubicle.

I walked in the door of Advanstar Communications in September 1993. Ever since, I've worked in one editorial capacity or another for nearly a dozen different B2B magazines. And since 2001, I've been Web Editor for Landscape Management, which became part of the new Questex Media Group last May.

I hadn't realized how poignant this moment of parting would be. Certainly I'm excited about moving to our new offices in downtown Cleveland. But I also find myself flooded with memories of "les temps perdu" -- bygone times.
-- The crazy Italian chef that ran the cafeteria my first year here.
-- The yearly arrival in spring of those fluffy but messy Canadian goslings.
-- The fleeting glimpses of small herds of deer flitting through the woods behind our headquarters campus.
-- My favorite lunch haunts, especially Nam Wah, a humble Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant with great food and bad decor.
-- The dozens and dozens of colleagues and dear friends with whom I've spent so many of my waking hours.

Even Ron's wife, Vicky, has been pressed into service sorting through bins we haven't looked into for years! ----->

This move wakes me up to how life is just racing by and how lucky I am to be alive — right here, right now.

Even the season seems to echo the message. After a long slow burndown this fall, the trees have shed nearly every leaf in preparation for tonight's predicted deep frost.

But spring, my friends, is right around the corner.

^ TEAMWORK! My buddies Michael Seuffert, Stephanie Ricca and Ron Hall load up the moving boxes. We're outta here!!

— Lynne Brakeman

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Do Not Call list is bunk

If the telephone rings anytime between 6 p.m. - 10 p.m. at our home during the week or anytime between 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays, we don't answer it. We let the answering machine do its work. You won't believe how many different organizations call us seeking donations — about half of them organizations that we've never heard of before.

Oh sure, we no longer get calls pitching us a new credit card, a different telephone provider or lawn care service (actually we got very few of those to begin with since our yard is mostly garden), but the number of requests from colleges, children's funds, police and fire benevolent societies — you name it — is incredible.

You know how we can tell? Once the answering machine starts its familiar message — "Sorry, we can't take your call now, but please leave your name and number" — there is silence or the call (probably automated) is terminated.

Occasionally, in a second of forgetfulness I will pick up the phone and the caller launches into a scripted plea for money.

Hey, we give a fair bit of our resources for things that we care about and that we understand, but somehow we've gotten on a list and have been targeted as fair game by just about every type of "charitable" organization known to man.

At least in our household, the number of telephone solicitations haven't decreased; they've actually increased. It almost makes me wish for the good old days before the Do Not Call list. At least the solicitations offered things that we understood. — Ron Hall

Monday, November 14, 2005

Ottawa shoots down ban

Ottawa is the capital city of Canada. Wednesday, Nov. 9, lawmakers there defeated a bylaw aimed at banning the "cosmetic use" of pesticides on properties there. The vote was 12-9. This was the second time in less than a month that they voted on the measure. Several weeks ago they deadlocked on the issue in spite of a lot of backroom wrangling and political arm twisting. Efforts to come up with a compromise among the lawmakers created lots of discussion but no consensus. Although the idea of bringing the issue to the public in the form of a referendum was discussed, that too was narrowly defeated by the councilors. The pesticide debate in Ottawa has been so exhausting that even the lawn care companies there — the target of activist organizations — told us they were agreeable to a compromise measure. Looks like they have some time to catch their breaths, at least until the anti-pesticide drum beat begins. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The color of money is green; of labor brown

Brown is the color of the face of labor in southwest Florida. Behind the McDonald's register, stocking supermarket shelves, yanking soggy pink insulation from the ceilings of hurricane-damaged condos, blowing brittle dessicated leaves from parking lots, mowing properties, trimming shrubs — brown.

Almost two weeks ago the eye of Hurricane Wilma passed about 20 miles south of where I write this. This region is mostly cleanup and repair mode, and not rebuild or relocate like it is in places wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. Had Wilma made landfall here or north of here, the story would have been different, the damage much greater. But it didn't.

Contracted labor is crawling all over the place. Nobody is leaning on a shovel. Everybody's working. Everybody's getting top dollar for their services, a good friend tells me. This is "gravy work," he says.

Signs posted along just about every off ramp of I-75 warn that providing contracted services without a state license is a felony. I can't speak to the other trades, such as roofers, etc., but I didn't see any landscape trucks or trailers that weren't local.

-- Ron Hall

Monday, November 07, 2005

Scattered to the winds

Our edit staff is scattered across this great big beautiful country. I'm at my son's tiny place on Marco Island, FL, Managing Editor Steph is in Phoenix with the irrigation folks and Associate Editor Michael and Web Editor Lynne are back in balmy Cleveland manning the fort.

Looking back at the Green Industry Expo (GIE) that finished up Saturday evening it's difficult for me to describe its success. Even after 21 years in the business it's tough for me to give these types of events a final grade; everybody shows up with different expectations and leaves with different experiences.

Judging by the numbers of attendees at the GIE at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, it was successful. The unofficial number I heard was 5800, including exhibitors.

Most of the buzz came from landscape contractors. One of the staffers told me that each of the three morning "Breakfast of Champions" drew 900 attendees. That sounds about right. Sprint with the herd into the huge breakfast room or you risked not getting a seat at a table that dealt with the topic you wanted to discuss.

Also, the educational sessions that I attended were lively and most of the seats were filled.

Every year it seems that fewer of the attendees use the GIE as an excuse to mix business with vacation. Most are there strictly for business and to network. Probably the biggest reason for that the GIE is so early in November that just about everybody is still working to finish as much work as they can by the end of the season. They know the revenue they can gather now until year's end will make a huge difference in next spring's cash flow picture or how much they can reinvest in their companies.

But there was the usual amount of whining, mostly about the distance between the PLANET headquarters hotel, the Renaissance, and the massive Orange County Convention Center. Some folks found it difficult to get back and forth. Some of the events were at the convention center, some at the Renaissance and some at the Rosen Centre Hotel.

The '05 GIE is over. I'm taking a few days off and seeing some of the damage done by Hurricane Wilma here in south Florida. Palm fronds and oak limbs, broken plastic lawn furniture, piles of pink ceiling insulation and a surprising number of destroyed barbeque grills litter the tree lawns.The steeple that graced the top of the church down the block is a big heap in the adjacent parking lot.

But compared to what Katrina did, the folks here consider themselves some of the luckiest people in the world. Walking the neighborhoods and seeing the size of the homes, the beautifully manicured landscapes and new luxury or sports cars in their driveways, I say amen to that.

— Ron Hall

Laughing through GIE

There was something funny going on in Orlando at the Green Industry Expo.

It started with the opening speaker, corporate comedian Greg Schwem, who poked fun at the industry, in a nice way of course, and reminded everyone to take a step back and laugh at yourselves and your jobs every once in a while.

The humor continued in one of the educational sessions I attended. The presentation by Rick Segel of Rick Segel Associates was called “How to Differentiate Your Business…Techniques to Stand Out in a Crowded Marketplace.” I just knew there was something funny about this Rick Segel character. He looked and sounded like a gruff, tough, no-nonsense New Yorker. So it was funny to find out that he makes his living running a dress shop. (He’s also written several books, including "Laugh and Get Rich" and the "Retail Business Kit for Dummies.") Segel said the most important thing in business is to make your customer feel important, and one of the best ways to do that is through humor. (For example, he listed some of his favorite titles he has seen on business cards including Head Honcho, Brains of the Operation, Bone Counter (it was for a dog biscuit manufacturer) and VP of Non-Productive Services. These are titles that people remember, and help customers remember you.)

And finally, though we were all there to do business, there was plenty of laughing on the show floor as new relationships were forged, and old friendships rekindled, showing once again that the greatest asset of these shows are the people.

Still, I didn’t find it that funny when the fire alarm went off in my hotel room at 3:30 a.m. and ended up standing outside for an hour on Thursday when I had to get up for a 7 a.m. breakfast, but maybe in a few weeks when I look back on it, I may laugh.

— Mike Seuffert

Friday, November 04, 2005

GIE ... DO try this at home

As Ron mentioned yesterday, the Landscape Management team is busy here in Orlando at Green Industry Expo. We're testing equipment, meeting readers and looking out for new products and business ideas. First on my list yesterday was a popular event called the Breakfast of Champions. No Wheaties, but lots of ideas. The way this event works is that conference attendees show up at the crack of dawn for a chance to share breakfast at any one of nearly 50 tables. Each table is led by a "champion," who leads the discussion on a specialty topic.

People told me to arrive by 6:30 if I wanted to get a good table for the 7 a.m. breakfast. Huh? So I was a little late at 6:45 and by then it was a zoo.

And now I know why. This was a fantastic opportunity for participants to knock ideas around, ask questions and even commiserate. My table focused on strategic planning and we had participants from landscape, design/build, construction and lawn care companies big and small chatting about how to make a plan, when to make it, who to put in charge of the plan, etc. etc. Nobody held back.

Sure, it's easy to share ideas with people from across the country who you'll never compete with, but why not put this planning idea to work within your company? Set up a time to meet over a meal with a set topic in mind (could be strategic planning, could be route management, could be purchasing, anything) and just throw ideas around. I'd like to try it at our company too, so watch out Ron and Mike!

— Stephanie Ricca

GIE . . . It feels well, kinda different

Nothing stays the same and industries, like people, change. The same goes for trade shows. The Green Industry Expo is underway in Orlando this week. The first GIE took place 15 years ago when three Green Industry associations partnered to hold a single "national" trade show each fall. Each of the three association partners — the PLCAA, PGMS and ALCA — tied annual business meetings to the trade show, and each offered separate educational programs for members and prospects.

The first GIE was in downtown Nashville, TN. It had a decidedly "lawn care" flavor as PLCAA, the former Professional Lawn Care Association of America, had expanded rapidly in the 1980s and had established a trade show that, for all practical purposes, became the precursor to the GIE.

But PLCAA is gone (having merged with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America, ALCA, to form a new organization known as PLANET this year) and the personality of the GIE has changed. Each year "iron" becomes a bigger part of the GIE because of the growth of contract mowing and landscape installs and builds these past 10-15 years.

The leadership of PLANET is making every effort to recognize and serve its professional applicator company members, and has several lawn care pros on its board. But only time will tell how well this is accomplished. PLANET is not even a year old, after all, and is in the process of building a new identity.

What PLANET's new identity will be may be short-lived if it eventually merges with The American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA). It's a possibility although both groups are still in the "due diligance" phase and the PLANET folks insist that, at best, it couldn't happen prior to 2007.

Change, change, change.

For me anyway, it felt kind of weird not kicking off the GIE with the annual PLCAA Business Meeting and Awards Dinner. Sometimes it got a little bit raucous and a wee bit out of hand . . . but that's what made it so fun.

— Ron Hall